Autumn of Discontent: The Crisis over Intervention
Our struggle has been, of course, contemplated by foreign nations with reference less to its own merits, than to its supposed, and often exaggerated effects and consequences resulting to those nations themselves.
President Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862
The autumn of 1862 emerged as the pivotal period of crisis over foreign intervention in the American war. Not only did the British focus on the issue at the highest levels of government, but Napoleon in France produced an actual proposal for a joint intervention that invited the Russians to join the Anglo- French lead. Britain's motives remained a mixture of humanitarian and economic reasons, made more volatile by an inordinate fear of race war and its ultimate international repercussions. French interest focused on the growing need for cotton along with Napoleon's personal drive for a foothold in Mexico. Russia's feelings continued to be quixotic, pushed and pulled by ties to the Union that repeatedly raised the question of whether an intervention would help its friends in Washington more than its enemies in London and Paris. In any event, foreign discontent with the unending nature of the war had mobilized sufficient concern to put the Union in its deepest peril from the outside. A European involvement would virtually assure southern independence, regardless of the approach.
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The arguments presented by Palmerston and Lewis, combined with Gladstone's provocative speech, brought a sense of immediacy to the interventionist question and compelled the supporters of mediation to reassess their position in light of its dangerous implications. Indeed, the imminent debate over intervention forced them to ponder the serious consequences of alienating the Union and perhaps causing an Anglo-American war of vengeance. If war developed, could the British trust France to stand with them? Would the